Changes, Chances, Choices…

Not even two seasons since the inauguration of Baba Cake Café had passed when we suddenly had a problem: The traveling musicians loved to gather at our place and enjoy themselves playing some good music, which of course was not an issue at all for us. But unfortunately our neighbors did not share our enthusiasm about the jam sessions.

As we did not want to get into any silly never-ending fights with anybody, we had to come up with a solution quickly. They asked us to keep the heavy roll-up door closed in the evenings, which was not really helping much; the sound was still audible and now it included the new and loud clattering noise of the rusty door being rolled up and down each time somebody wanted to come in or leave the place.

I am not even sure if the activities at Baba Cake were actually the true reason for all the complaints. In small towns all over the world  jealousy matters are happening and people love to talk. The years that I have been living here taught me quite a bit about the Indian sort of jealousy, which I personally perceive as extremely strong. It also seems to be extremely difficult for people here to be happy from the heart about somebody else’s luck, achievements, success or happiness and it doesn’t even matter much if it comes to a neighbor, friend or even a close family member; ugly and unbelievable things happen – at least this is what they are to me, as for some people all of this is nothing but “normal” behavior.

For me personally this fact is very hard to digest, because somebody else’s happiness makes me feel extremely happy, too.I rather prefer to feel good and happy inside, for or with someone else than grumpy and bad and will for sure keep on trying my best to choose a positive attitude instead of spreading miserable feelings.

There is a famous saying, which goes

“When one door closes, another opens”

– in our case this is what literally happened.

We had started to make friends with the grocery shopkeepers, whose place was just a stone’s throw from our café. The same family also runs the local mill, where women from the surroundings bring their crops to grind. As I already mentioned, it’s a small village, and of course, the shopkeeper already knew about our trouble and offered his storage place as a new location for our project. I had serious doubts, when we had a look at the place. There was nothing but a rough tin hut with a bunch of flour bags in it. But as always, Baba immediately saw the positive side of it:

“No problem, this good place! Much bigger!”

He was already figuring out in his mind which improvements were necessary to turn the tin hut into a cozy café. Sure, the rent was a bit higher and we would have to spend again some money to somehow build something like a kitchen, but in the end this was still better than having to face endless hassles with the locals. Besides, we did not have any means for something more sophisticated anyways. So we decided to take a chance.

It was January 2014 and with a bit of an effort we would manage to get the new space ready for the coming spring season, which begins every year in March. There was a lot of work to do: the tin set needed to be cleaned and painted, an additional door was necessary and we decided to build an open kitchen inside of the same space.

I was surprised when I realized how attached I got to the old place, which we had created only a short while ago.  It was not easy for me to let it go, but as the new location slowly took shape I started to look forward for the change. Aside from that the place was indeed bigger and we even managed to create a nice and inviting porch.

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And again an artistic soul appeared just on time to create the final touch in form of an amazing painting on our outer wall – well, in this case our outer steel sheet. To cover the metal indoors we used some sarees for the ceiling and pretty bed covers for the walls. Maybe the end result was a touch too colorful, but well, let’s not forget that we are in India, so being generous with colors is okay 😀

Something that keeps on fascinating me about India is that there is always the possibility to create something out of nothing really quickly. Likewise, thoughts and ideas manifest much faster than expected, so it is wise to think twice before making a wish and to watch the flow of your mind from time to time. As Gautama Buddha said:

“Our life is the creation of our mind”


If you like to see and know a bit more, you can also have a look at our Baba Cake Page on facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/babacake.kasar

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BABA CAKE

September 2012

Time had come to think about how to make a living in our Himalayan Village. Just renting out a room for 200 rupees (3 $) a day and organizing a few jam sessions during the tourist seasons, which all together last only six months, was definitively not enough to survive. The big question was:

WHAT TO DO ?

There was an infinite spectrum of possibilities and ideas, but almost none could realistically be materialized. Suddenly I had an idea:

I always loved to bake, so why not make cakes and sell them to the tourists?

Famous applecrumble

We had  the tool, a tiny electric oven that we once bought in Delhi, that would have to do it to begin. Going from guesthouse to guesthouse loaded with cakes while carrying a little baby at the same time was not the best idea, as this would mean A LOT of walking, as the guesthouses are spread all over the village to each side of the ridge. So I asked a local who was running a bigger guesthouse with a little grocery shop attached to it, if he could sell the cakes for us. He agreed and soon our fist cakes were displayed at Ram Singh’s Guesthouse. We sold some, but it was not really a roaring success. Sometimes when people walked by the shop,  no one was there to attend them, because the owner had gone to town and his wife was working somewhere on the fields and people probably didn’t want to wait for an hour or so only to get a piece of cake.

There was this young local fellow, who came to visit us almost daily, because he was neither studying, nor working and did not know what else to do with his time. His father had a well paid government job in Delhi and the family was pretty wealthy, so there was not really a great need for him to do any of this. One day I mentioned that it would be good to have a small place of our own where we could sell the cakes and maybe even some good chai and coffee and the guy said

 “Oh, we have a shop which sits empty, nobody uses it since years and there it even has a counter”

Baba Cake counter

The same day we went to check on the place and for us it was just perfect! Well, it was not really a shop by Western standards, it was more like a garage. But there was a small terrace, some shelves and a second small room which could be used as a kitchen. There was no running water either, but the water supply was nearby and we could do the dishes in a tub and bring all the necessary water in buckets; all good enough for a start. We talked to his big brother who was in charge of business matters and agreed a good price for the rent.

As always, our budget was very limited and therefore we tried to keep things as cheap and simple as possible. We bought some plywood which was turned into low tables, mattresses to sit on the floor, tableware and a couple of buckets with paint. Baba Cake Café was ready just on time for the fall season. My job was to bake the cakes and muffins and Baba was in charge of tea and coffee. As our baby was not even one year old and slept a lot and needed very much of her mommy’s attention I would prepare the cakes at home early in the morning and we would then carry them up thee hill to the shop.

Baba Cake wall painting

The travelers loved our place! I was very much happy and excited, but at the same time pretty much surprised as the place was really small and humble. Probably this was exactly the reason why people liked it. It soon turned into a meeting point and favorite hangout for many travelers, where people enjoyed a good cup of masala chai and a tasty piece of cake. Our Apple-Crumble became really famous and sometimes I could not bake enough of it to make everybody happy. Our tiny electric oven did magic, although the daily and frequent power cuts made me go wild regularly.

There are always many amazing and creative souls among the traveler community and so in exchange for cake and chai, we even got a really cool design painted on our entrance wall. There was always somebody with an instrument playing music in the shop, the atmosphere was wonderful and somehow most of the guests ended up becoming our very good friends. A big Baba Cake Family came into life, where people are open, kind, colorful, creative and of course all a bit crazy; each of us in our own particular way 😉

Sadhu Baba Cake

First stop: Last Chance

June 2007

“Ladies and gentlemen we are landing at Delhi Airport. It is 4 a.m. and the local temperature is 42 Cº”

This really woke me up! Could this be true, 42 Cº at these early hours? Of course it was true! What had I expected? It was June the month just before the monsoon starts, when the sizzling heat is at its peak in most parts of India.

I checked into a budget Hotel recommended by a friend, who also told me that it was one of the better budget Hotels in Pahar Ganj; a good and economic place to stay.

Like most of the Hotels in this area, the room had no window and the stuffy air pushed me down when I stepped through the door. I took a quick shower praying that the dangling piece of ceiling would not fall off and knock me down. I would have preferred an ice-cold shower to ease the burning heat, but only bubbling hot water came out of the tap. I lay down on the bed under the wobbly fan and tried not to move; that did not help much, I started to sweat anyway straight away.

I had planned to stay one night in Delhi and leave for Rishikesh on the next day. But in India plans rarely work out. I had tried to go out of my room to explore the bazaar, but I gave up after only five minutes. It was a torture to be out there, it felt as if someone was constantly holding a dust spitting hot-air-blower right into my face. Back in the Hotel I booked a tourist bus ticket for the same night. I couldn’t wait to get out of Delhi and of course to arrive in Rishikesh!

It was about an eight hour bus ride. I couldn’t sleep all night. On one hand due to the bumpy movements of the bus that are even more intense on the back seats (which I also shared with an Indian family, who’s child ended up sleeping with half of its body on my lap)and on the other, of course, because I was incredibly nervous. Baba had called me the day before and knew when the bus would arrive. Would he come to receive me? Into which guesthouse should I check in? How would both of us react once we stood in front of each other?

It was just before sunrise when I slowly crossed the Ramjhula Bridge by walk, carrying my heavy backpack. It was still very hot, but yet felt more pleasant than the heat mixed with air pollution in Delhi.

For me it is always a magic moment to cross this bridge during the early hours of the day. There is no traffic noise; the sensation of peace is in the air while a few people already perform their morning rituals on the bench of the holy Ganges that flows majestically under your feet.

I headed towards Last Chance Café, the place where we met most of the time during the Yoga festival. I knew that they had rooms to rent, too. I walked along the market street to reach the end of Ramjhula. All the little shops were still closed, there was no sign of life, even the cows and street dogs were still sleeping. Nobody in the Last Chance Café was awake yet either. I dropped my backpack and took a seat in the garden. After a while the young cook showed up, followed by Vijay, the guesthouse manager, both of them with sleepy morning faces. They were grinning and obviously happy to see me. We greeted each other cheerfully and the first thing they wanted to know was:

“Where is Babaji?”

“No idea. Actually this is a good question!” I answered.

I checked into one of the rooms, to give it a name. I think at this point I have to describe this unique place called “Last Chance Café”. I never had seen it from the inside. Normally we had gathered there only outside in the garden or in the little bamboo restaurant hut.

These were more or less my first observations: At the entrance are a small reception desk and a metal cupboard. On the right side of it there is a dormitory with lockers and eight beds. To the left is a hall with four rooms, which actually reminded me more of cow sheds. The walls are made of wooden panels that do not even reach up to the top of the ceiling. The space between is covered with a mosquito grid, which means that you can hear every single of your room neighbour’s movements. There is also one deluxe room, which we ended up calling the honeymoon-suite, because it is the only single room with proper walls (That time it was unfortunately busy).

The bathrooms and toilets are outside and give visitors the opportunity to gain an insight of the local fauna; Geckos, frogs and colourful exotic insects frequently dwell there, depending on the season of the year. The bathrooms with the good old Indian bucket plus jug system are not tiled and there is no hot water. The toilets are also Indian style, which means that there is no western toilet seat and you have to adapt the squatting position, which I actually prefer as it is more hygienic; and by the way a good yoga exercise.

But there is a beautiful garden with a bamboo hut, which invites to have a tasty breakfast or a cup of chai. The rooftop is excellent for yoga practice and offers an amazing view over the Ganges. It is the last building on the way to the famous Beatles Ashram, there is almost no traffic and you can find good places for a bath in the Ganges nearby. The staff is really cool, they make great food and the rent is cheap. And if you think that you are a weirdo, it is a good place to find out that you are actually not that bad off. At Last Chance I met the creme de la creme of freaky people, what I really loved and enjoyed. In my family I think that I am considered a bit the strange one. While staying at the Last Chance Café I wished more than once my mom could see me there to find out, that I am actually pretty normal.

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I didn’t even try to sleep. I already had passed the point of fatigue, where falling asleep becomes impossible. I put my stuff in my cow shed and took a walk along the river.

The Ganges had changed pretty much since I came here in March. It was much wider and the water wasn’t of the same beautiful turquoise colour as I remembered, but had turned into a dingy brown, probably due to rains and snowmelt in the Himalayas. I sat on a stone bench on the shore and watched the colourful flowers that had been offered to Mother Ganga floating merrily down the stream. My cellphone rang.

“Hello?”

“You now where?”

“Sitting on a bench near the bridge.”

“Ok. Me coming.”

Five minutes later he showed up in company of a Baba friend. The second encounter was pretty formal; we shook hands.

Wow, he looks gorgeous! 

I thought, while he grinned broadly at me and asked:

“You already breakfast?”

“Not yet”

“Okay, then chalo Last Chance!”